Prosopometamorphopsia: The Woman Who Saw Dragons

By Neuroskeptic | December 5, 2014 11:31 am

A 52 year old woman suffered from a strange problem: she saw dragons wherever she looked.


Here’s the medical case report in The LancetProsopometamorphopsia and facial hallucinations from a team of researchers including the famous Oliver Sacks.

In July, 2011, a 52-year-old woman presented to our psychiatric outpatient clinic with a life-long history of seeing people’s faces change into dragon-like faces and hallucinating similar faces many times a day.

What does a dragon look like? According to the patient, when someone turns into one, their faces become

Black, grew long, pointy ears and a protruding snout, and displayed a reptiloid skin and huge eyes in bright yellow, green, blue, or red.

These hallucinations didn’t just occur when the woman was looking at real faces. The dragons also came out of nowhere

She saw similar dragon-like faces drifting towards her many times a day from the walls, electrical sockets, or the computer screen, in both the presence and absence of face-like patterns, and at night she saw many dragon-like faces in the dark.

What was causing these strange phenomena? The authors of the case report confess that they’re not sure. Brain scanning revealed no obvious cause:

Neurological examination, blood tests, and electroencephalogram (EEG) were normal, and MRI brain showed only a few white-matter abnormalities

The authors nonetheless go on to speculate as to the neurological basis of the woman’s complaints, but I think that if they were to speak freely, they’d admit that it’s a mystery.

Our story has a happy ending, at least. The woman was put on rivastigmine, an anti-dementia medication, and this vanquished the dragons (mostly). Previously she had been unable to hold down a job because the hallucinations interfered with her social interactions, but now

She has remained in the same job for the past 3 years and her interaction with colleagues is greatly improved.

ResearchBlogging.orgBlom JD, Sommer IE, Koops S, & Sacks OW (2014). Prosopometamorphopsia and facial hallucinations. Lancet, 384 (9958) PMID: 25435453

  • Tony Freitas

    How does Sacks find all of these rare cases?

    • Neuroskeptic

      Funny you should say that. In this case: “In desperation she searched the internet for experts in her condition and emailed Prof Oliver Sacks, who referred her to our team in The Netherlands.”

      So it seems that his reputation for strange cases has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      • D Samuel Schwarzkopf

        Actually that was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw that question: I don’t think he’s finding these cases anymore. They find him.

        • Neuroskeptic

          It does make me worry slightly about the possibility that people might exaggerate the “weirdness” of their symptoms in the hopes of getting his attention.

          • D Samuel Schwarzkopf

            That danger is certainly there. Although I would guess that they must at least do some tests to ascertain whether people are faking it (not fool-proof of course).

          • Emkay

            what! ‘weirdos out there in the internets?
            you’re joking..

    • Andrew Cordani

      If you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, either have a magnet or a match

  • christian

    She is seeing spritual warfare. Scientist wont admit it. But she seeing peoples true forms. I bet she doesnt see it on everyones face. But thats just my opinon. She see demons. That are everywhere…..

    • Virginia Robertson

      Christian, you should write to Professor Oliver Sachs or see any qualified mental health professional. They have medicines that will help you. You don’t have to see demons every where.

      • Richard Hudson

        Au contraire, Virginia, there are no current medicines to correct superstitious beliefs.

      • Richard Hudson

        Now I understand the full meaning of counter-intelligence.

        • Uzoozy

          Its not counter intelligence its simple torture and hate for all other people who do not look like them.
          Chritians in generally ceuel and soul less.

      • lmanningok

        Your comment is a bit hard to understand. What do you mean pagan way? Christianity is paganism; that’s why the Jews didn’t accept it. Paganism is full of the hero who saves his tribe/humanity through sacrifice (after fathering himself through his mother). Check out the documentary, “The God Who Wasn’t There.” Can’t remember the producer’s name, but he was a young survivor of fundamentalism and researched pagan similarities to Christianity. it was a candidate for an Oscar.

      • Necromancer

        My apologies Christian. Harry potter did destroy me but the dark prince, lord valdemort, summoned me back from the dead to carry out his will.

    • Jespersen

      I suggest you should give up on modern technology, because apparently it’s powered by the same demons:

      “She saw similar dragon-like faces drifting towards her many times a day from the walls, electrical sockets, or the computer screen”

      Windows: Reptilian Monster Staring-at-You Edition. Still better than Vista.

    • PunkyAmerica

      Sounds to me like YOU see demons everywhere. I don’t.

    • lmanningok

      Then why does the rivastigmine work? The drug is 100% natural, made up of physical elements. How can it have any connection with anything supernatural, (un)natural, which has nothing physical about it? Where’s the bridge? Most likely, these “demons” exist only in the human mind and the drug is interacting with the physical brain. It’s complicated, but humans are working on it.

      • Emkay

        never trust an atom, they make up everything..

        • wooter

          Which reminds me of a joke……

          A neutron walks into a bar and asks “how much for a beer?” The bartender says, “for you? no charge.”

        • twas brillig

          You do not need atoms for consciousness or spirit. Those are not dependent on material reality.

          • Emkay

            wrong… if you separate your brain (made of atoms) from your body…your consciousness and spirit both die as well…

    • Neuroskeptic

      Please keep the comments focussed on dragons. No general religious discussion here.

      • r0b50

        But religion is much crazier than a hallucination!

    • Overburdened_Planet

      You missed this part: “She saw similar dragon-like faces drifting towards her many times a day from the walls, electrical sockets, or the computer screen, in both the presence and absence of face-like patterns, and at night she saw many dragon-like faces in the dark.”

      So, computer screens are showing their true form?

      You can’t have it both ways; either “…she [is] seeing people’s true forms,” or electrical sockets are possessed.

      But you’re right about one thing.

      Scientist[s] won’t admit it.

      Because they’re scientists…

      • Overburdened_Planet

        And Mac is Jesus!

        What does Linux represent?

        Atheism? 😉

        • Necromancer

          Hmm, perhaps :)

        • ohwilleke

          Animists, because they recognize no supreme authority.

        • Emkay

          God is love, love is blind, Stevie Wonder is blind, Stevie Wonder is God…

          • Overburdened_Planet

            It is amazing to think…


    • Thehermit

      Can she see me?

  • James Stewart

    David Icke was right, our Reptillian Overlords exist.

    • Overburdened_Planet

      I also thought about Mr. Icke, but his delusion might be based on abberations in video technology where eyes briefly appear to alter shape/color, and while I don’t recall where I read that, it could be a good theory to explain what he thinks he sees, and less like what the woman described, where entire faces appear to change shape, including her seeing these faces on non-human/living items such as walls and computer screens, although electrical sockets have face-like attributes, with three holes, two side by side for eyes, and the grounded socket representing the mouth.

      I realize you might be kidding, but readers might be interested to learn more.

      • Overburdened_Planet

        I’m replying to myself in order to respond to Ryan H because I read his response to me through Disqus email, but for some reason it’s not showing here.

        If someone eventually sees his response to me, please reply to me and I’ll edit or delete this post and reply to him directly.

        To Ryan H:
        Interesting how we’re cautious in our wording.

        I said “might”; you said “most if not all.”

        I was pleased to come across a theory for these aberrations, but it’s more likely technical glitches as you more succinctly explained than a reptilian from another planet.

        And from there, even if they were real, then what information explains their moon base?

        My point is, a single delusion is one thing; extrapolation of shape-shifting aliens towards knowing where they reside is quite another.

      • Prescilla aguilar

        So if infants, dogs and older humans can see spirits that isn’t seen by most people; why is seeing dragons a psychotic disorder when seeing spirits isn’t? Is this all just our minds creating allusions that don’t exist? or is this a gift that humans are given that we take for granted?

        • Overburdened_Planet

          How do you know infants and dogs see spirits?

          They can’t report specific information, so any interpretation regarding their seeing spirits is speculative.

          As for seeing dragons, that was specific to one person, and on anti-dementia medication, her hallucinations diminished, so the origin of those hallucinations might be a result of her brain chemistry.

          The question then would be for people who see spirits to take medication to determine whether they no longer have these experiences.

          And people who claim to see spirits, some are con artists who take advantage of others for profit.

          If anyone can prove they actually see spirits, the James Randi Foundation has a check for $1 million waiting for them.

    • Ryan H

      LOL Icke was not “right” because he NEVER called them “demons” but only “archons” which is NOT the proper biblical term for them. EVEN SATAN is called “THAT OLD DRAGON” and the “SERPENT” in the Bible.

      This woman probably had a GIFT FROM GOD and the “wannabe gods” (psychiatrists) INSTEAD, FOOLISHLY chose to SILENCE her gift instead of FACILITATING for it’s use to bless people to finally hear the TRUTH! ALL PSYCH MEDS are to QUIET and NUMB otherwise GIFTED minds!

      • Stuart

        I think you have a problem with your caps lock mate

  • Jespersen

    I wonder if there’s any pattern to such weird cases. Could there be any reason it was dragons in her case, as opposed to some other sort of distortion?

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  • jbladeus

    Played too much skyrim.

    • Neuroskeptic

      Let me guess, someone stole your sweetroll?

      • Necromancer

        Hey, let’s keep it on dragons.

      • lmanningok

        Let’s keep the focus on dragons. No sweet roll discussion here.

        • Neuroskeptic

          Never should’ve come here…

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  • Sandra Snow

    Did they do a PET scan on her?

    • wooter

      Dragons don’t qualify as PETs.

  • Don’t Even Try It!

    Simple: She’s crazy!

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  • wooter

    And yet as comical as we doped up pagan atheists are, we do not propose that unseen, unproven mythical beings are actually demons that walk among us and are only seen by a tiny percentage of people with admitted mental issues.

    But thats just my opinon.

    And am I alone in thinking that perhaps pagans aren’t the only ones “doped up” here?

  • Watcher1

    So she was seeing dragons everywhere, and now she’s free to work some boring job and live a mundane life sans dragons. Not sure that’s an improvement :)

  • Bauls

    Roko’s Basilisk is a possible explanation. Especially connecting the sightings from electrical outlets and computer screens and the fact that the hallucinations are taking on a serpent/reptilian form. This lady should be monitored closely or at least she should be handed over to proper artificial intelligence investigation authorities.

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  • Michellemnop

    That band Imagine Dragons probably had no idea how awful life would be when people took it to heart. (……or listened to their music.)

    • Neuroskeptic


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  • gettingwell

    It is known

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  • Bruce Johnson

    Articles like this one sure bring out some people with weird beliefs.

  • Drenn Workman

    There are many delusional people but this is the most remarkable I have heard about.

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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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